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Foundation for Spelling Success

To develop a foundation for spelling success and strengthen spelling skills the student needs to:

1. Develop Phonemic Awareness: Phonemic awareness (PA) is critical to spelling development. The child
needs to be able to recognize and distinguish the sounds within spoken words in order to then translate
these sounds back to print. If the child has a phonemic weakness, you need to help that child strengthen
their phonemic awareness with PA training. The great news is that research proves PA training has strong
and significant effects on reading and spelling development (National Reading Panel).
2. Understand phonemic nature of spelling: The student needs to understand written English is based on a
phonemic code. In other words printed black squiggles represent sounds in the word.
3. Learn the phonemic code: The student needs to learn the complete phonemic code. The English
phonemic code is complex and the student needs to learn the complete code in order to handle these
complexities. The student needs to learn the code systematically beginning with the basic code and then
adding the complexities with vowel combinations, r-controlled combinations and other intricacies. Although
there is code overlap (more than one way to write a sound), irregular and unexpected spellings, English is
based on this phonemic code.
4. Approach the process of spelling phonemically: The student needs to base their spelling on converting
the sounds in the spoken word into print. They need to write the phonemic code for the sounds in the word.
Spelling needs to be approached as recoding sound to print. Once again phonemic awareness is a critical
skill. The child must have the phonemic awareness to recognize and distinguish the sounds within words. If
your child has a phonemic weakness, you need to help the child strengthen their phonemic awareness.
5. Acquire knowledge of spelling patterns and learn helpful guidelines: The student needs to learn and
practice the common spelling patterns that are used in English. There are also guidelines that can help us
learn correct spelling. While there are exceptions and irregularities most words follow common patterns.
There are also a number of helpful guidelines to aid us in accurate spelling. Children are better able to
achieve spelling success when they learn and practice these common patterns and helpful guidelines.
6. Learn/memorize specific and tricky spellings: For accurate spelling the student does need to learn the
correct spelling for common words and begin memorizing the specific spelling pattern used for particular
words. Accurate spelling can be tricky and does require remembering which spelling pattern is used within
certain words.
Recommendations for Effective Spelling Instruction: Designing Spelling Instruction to
Establish the Foundation of Phonologic Re-coding (Spelling) of words and Build
Intermediate and Advanced Spelling Skills

The following recommendations for effective spelling instruction are designed to help the student learn
accurately represent our written language (spell words) by establishing a strong foundation of phonologic
processing and developing knowledge of common spelling patterns and guidelines. Reading and spelling
are strongly related processes. Reading is the process of changing printed words into language. Spelling is
the converse process of changing spoken words back into print. Not only is effective direct systematic
phonics reading instruction proven to enhance childrens success in learning to read but direct systematic
phonics improves childrens ability to spell. Effective instruction closely coordinates and directly links
reading and spelling instruction. Teaching the child the foundation of our written language by linking
decoding/reading (converting print to words/language) with recoding/spelling (converting spoken words to
print) helps children learn and understand exactly how our written language works and establishes the
necessary foundation so they can achieve success in both reading and spelling.

Effective spelling instruction is a process of developing and expanding skills. Effective instruction begins by
building a strong foundation, systematically adds complexities and eventually advances to the higher level
skills. Effective spelling instruction is linked to a strong direct systematic phonics program. It begins by
teaching the child to write the sounds of simple decodable words to establish the strong phonologic
processing base for recoding or spelling words. Effective programs systematically expand the childs
knowledge of the phonemic code, teach expected patterns and allow practice of these spelling patterns.
The spelling instruction also explicitly teaches helpful spelling guidelines. In addition, the student
continually practices correct spelling, acquires knowledge of expected patterns, and begins to memorize
some of the tricky and irregular words. The recommendations listed below can help your child or student
develop a strong foundation for spelling success.

Specific Recommendations for Effective Spelling Instruction:

# 1 - Develop spelling skills directly and systematically. First build a strong foundation and then
advance to higher level skills. Keep spelling instruction focused on the objective of helping the child acquire
the ability to accurately represent our written language.

# 2 - Design your spelling program to establish the foundation of phonologic spelling and strengthen
phonologic processing reading. In other words, directly teach your child the process of spelling is writing or
printing the sounds of the word or converting sound to print. Base spelling on writing the sounds not on
memorizing letter names. Teach spelling in a direct systematic, phonetic based manner. It is most effective
to link spelling instruction directly to a strong direct, systematic phonics program.

# 3 - In the beginning, teach spelling as a part of the reading instruction. Coordinate the spelling
instruction directly with the explicit instruction of the phonemic code conducted as part of the direct
systematic phonics instruction. Initial spelling instruction starts with spelling of simple phonetic spelling of
short decodable words. Decodable words include only the sounds and phonetic code the student has
already learned. The student learns to spell by writing these decodable words. By spelling decodable
words not only does the student develop a foundation for spelling but also strengthens phonologic
processing pathways for proficient reading. For example, if the student has learned the sounds m, t, a, s,
d, i, f, r, th; decodable words for spelling practice could include am, at, fat, did, mad, sat, dim, that, this,
ram. Remember, decodable is based on the phonemic code the child has learned NOT the letters. With the
example listed above the word rain is NOT decodable and should not be included in the spelling
instruction because the child has not learned that the vowel combination ai=/ay/sound. The word rain
would not be included until after the vowel combination/phonemic code ai=/ay/ had been directly taught to
the child.

In summary: In the learning stages spelling instruction needs to be directly linked to the effective direct
systematic phonics program. Start simple and then as the student masters the basic sounds and skills, add
the complexities in a systematic manner. Directly and systematically teach spelling with the basic code
followed by vowel combinations, r-controlled vowel combinations and other complexities. The child learns
and practices spelling words by sound that contain only the phonemic code that has been explicitly taught
in the direct systematic phonics instruction.

# 4 - Directly teach and practice common spelling patterns grouped together: Learning how and why
certain patterns are used and then practicing these common patterns helps students develop their spelling.
Although there is overlap with the code (more than one way a sound can be written) and irregular and
unexpected spellings, spelling is not a matter of memorizing random letters in tens of thousands of
individual words. Most spelling follows expected patterns. By teaching these patterns to students we can
help them develop spelling skills. In the learning stages it is very important to teach spelling using
decodable words grouped together by spelling pattern.

Structure instruction so spelling makes as much sense as possible. Give word lists by groups of common
spelling patterns. Teaching spelling of specific patterns and groups is much more effective than testing
lists of mixed spelling patterns for a single sound or phonetically unrelated words. Grouping common
spelling patterns together instead of mixing them up helps students learn these patterns and when they are
used. It also allows specific instruction on spelling patterns.

The following example demonstrates how to make spelling lists that teach specific spelling patterns: If you
are teaching the student to spell various words containing the /ay/ sound, group by spelling pattern.
List 1 would have the ai words (rain, bait, brain, wait, grain, aim, aid).
List 2 would give the ay words (play, away, stay, pay, pray).
List 3 would give the a-consonant-e spelling pattern (gate, trade, game, make, grade).
List 4 would contain the single vowel a spellings (rang, bank, thank, sang).
List 5 would contain the unexpected spellings of /ay/ (eight, weigh, great, ).

By using this method of grouping common spelling patterns together, you can also teach and practice the
expected patterns. For example in the word lists given above where you are teaching the ai and ay
spellings, you can directly point out that the ai is typically found at the middle of a syllable (rain, wait,
brain) or occasionally beginning a syllable (aim, aid) and how the ai spelling is never used at the end of a
word since no English words end in the letter i. You can show how the pattern ay is found at the end of
the words or sometimes the end of syllables and remind the student how words ending in the /ay/ sound
would never be spelled with ai and would need to be spelled with ay or another spelling pattern. By
grouping sounds you can directly teach these expected patterns. This can be contrasted with a much less
effective approach of mixing many different spelling patterns within a single list. For example a mixed long-
a list such as (wait, space, great, game, bang, play, they, eight) makes it difficult for the student to
recognize and learn the individual ways we spell /ay/ or determine important patterns such as the ai
spelling is never used at the end of a word.

When practicing, specifically point out the spelling pattern to the student. Grouping common spelling
together allows us to directly teach patterns include when the specific pattern is used and also which
spellings are most frequent. It is preferable group common spelling patterns together when teaching
spelling because this systematic grouping helps the student learn how to spell. After the student has
mastered and learned the common patterns you can then test for spelling knowledge. But for the learning
stages the objective is to develop foundational spelling skills.

# 5 - Directly teach and practice the common spelling guidelines. By learning common spelling
patterns and general guidelines the student is better able to understand the structure of our spelling.
Although there are exceptions, knowing the patterns, guidelines and expected frequency of occurrence
helps children (and adults) improve spelling accuracy. This is not a list of rules to be memorized but rather
a tool to learn common spelling guidelines and patterns. Direct instruction and practice in applying these
guidelines is what builds spelling skills. For example the guideline no English words end with the letter i
helps children spell oi and oy words (if the word end in the /oy/ sound you know you have to spell it oy
not oi such as with boy or destroy); it helps with the ai and ay spellings and with the ie spelling ending
words such as brownie, collie and rookie. You directly teach the guideline to the student and then have
them practice applying it.

# 6 - Have the student practice spelling words: The student needs to practice spelling words. They
need to learn what spelling pattern is used for a specific word. The most effective and efficient way to have
the student learn specific spelling words is to have the student write the word 5 to 10 times while saying the
sounds. The student needs to say the sounds, NOT the letter names. It is simple; all you need is paper
and pencil. Its efficient because it directly teaches the necessary print to sound and you are not wasting
time on processes that have nothing to do with spelling. It is highly effective because it directly builds
knowledge in the correct printed representation of the word using multisensory processes (kinetic-forming
the letters), visual (seeing the correct print), oral/auditory (saying and hearing the word). Writing the word 5-
10 times provides the repetition that enhances learning. Simple, effective and efficient. Repeatedly writing
a spelling word while paying attention to the phonemic code and saying the sounds is a effective, efficient
way for the student to learn spelling words and develop spelling skills.

# 7 - Directly teach the irregular words and unexpected patterns. English can be tricky. Not only do
students need to learn what spelling pattern is used for a specific word but some words absolutely are
irregular and contain unexpected and unusual spelling. Commonly encountered irregular words need to be
introduced and learned early. Explicitly point out the irregular/unexpected or tricky part of the word.
Directly teach these irregular words in a systematic manner, including them where appropriate. For
example, if you are teaching the word great, specifically point out the unexpected ea spelling for /ay/

# 8 - Directly teach the student how to spell mutisyllable words: For multisyllable words, teach the
student to sound out and spell by syllable. Writing the word by syllable helps prevent the common problem
of leaving out parts of the word. The student also needs to be aware on lazy pronunciation of unstressed
syllables and should practice common affixes. Spelling of multisyllable words should be coordinated with
instruction on reading multisyllable words. See Handling Multisyllable Words.

# 9 - Spelling instruction techniques to avoid in the learning stages:

Avoid spelling lists with multiple spelling patterns for single sounds and mixed lists of phonetically
unrelated words: Lists containing mixed and multiple spelling patterns for the same sound should be
avoided in the learning stages. These mixed lists make it harder for the child to learn foundational spelling
skills and can actually create difficulties and confusion in the learning stages. Using a list of mixed spellings
for a sound, especially before the student has learned all the individual patterns, contributes to confusion.
Mixed lists not only make spelling difficult but they often prevent students from recognizing and learning the
common patterns. For example if you use a mixed long-a list (wait, space, great, game, bang, play, they,
eight) it is difficult for the student to recognize and learn the individual ways we spell /ay/. Contrast the
effectiveness of this mixed/multiple spelling patterns list to the lists that were organized based on the same
spelling pattern listed above in the example in #4 on grouping spelling patterns.
Avoid theme based spelling lists containing words that are not decodable based on the students
code knowledge: Theme based spelling lists are frequently very poor tools for teaching spelling
and should be avoided in the learning stages. For example a summer theme that contains the words;
summer, swimming, dive, pool, vacation, hot, ice cream, beach, picnic. While these lists do not present
problems for those who already have knowledge of English spelling patterns, these types of mixed list
makes recognizing and learning patterns difficult. At the younger beginning level, these lists also frequently
contain patterns the student had not yet learned. As a result, the student often spells by memorizing
random letters instead of learning how to correctly write our phonetic language. While students eventually
need to learn all the spelling patterns and know which spelling pattern to use for what word, in the learning
stages foundational spelling skills are most effectively taught in a systematic manner with decodable words
and by grouping specific grouped by common phonetic spelling patterns.
Do NOT use invented spelling where the student is allowed to discover and write words however he
would like to. Although the student will obviously make spelling errors and perfection should not be
expected, do not allow and encourage the continued, repeated use of improper spelling. Instead of letting
the student continuously repeat errors, simply teach them the correct way to spell the word. This is not just
a minor problem with spelling a few words wrong. The use of invented or self-discovery spelling allows
the student to learn and repeatedly reinforce incorrect patterns and form improper neural models of the
words. You witness this in the many perfectly bright older students who continue to spell they as thay.
Repeatedly writing thay for years engrained the incorrect thay representation in their brain. It is a
disservice to the student to let them learn incorrectly. I strongly believe as parents and teachers it is our
job to teach students the correct representation of our language. There are numerous things that are
wonderful and necessary for students to discover on their own. However accurate representation of our
written language is not one of them. Once again the corrections and teaching can and should be done in a
positive manner. Acknowledging and even encouraging their phonetic spelling attempts should not
preclude teaching correct spelling. You wrote that word how it sounds. Thats a great try. But let me show
you the way that we actually spell it. It is always better to learn correctly!
Avoid worksheets and activities that show words spelled incorrectly: It is best to avoid all worksheet
and activities that show words spelled incorrectly. You do NOT want the student to read incorrect spelling.
Repeated exposure to incorrect spelling allows the student to build incorrect neural models of specific
words and to actually learn combinations and patterns that do not exist in English. Check carefully! Many
spelling worksheets and programs provide exposure to repeated incorrect spelling. While students do need
to learn how to proofread and identify spelling errors, repeated exposure to incorrect spelling in the learning
stages can be detrimental. If the student continually sees misspelled words they develop incorrect models
of the words. In contrast, if the student learns the correct representation he is then better able to recognize
incorrect spelling.
Avoid ineffective activities: Many spelling programs use inefficient activities to teach spelling. While
puzzles and games such as solving codes, searching through word finds, unscrambling letters, and
answering riddles, can be entertaining and provide other benefits these activities tend to be time
consuming and often have limited value in directly developing spelling skills. Some of these activities such
as jumbled letter arrangements can possibly confuse the development of correct spelling skills. At best
these activities frequently consume large quantities of time on the activity itself (such as the searching
process in a word find) instead of on developing a necessary skill (learning the correct written
representation of words). In contrast, the highly effective and extremely efficient activity for directly
developing spelling skills is to have the student repeatedly print the word 5 to 10 times correctly while
saying the sound. Simple! Effective! Efficient!

Spelling Tips for Students: How to Study and Practice Spelling Words

The following section shares a few spelling tips for students. Spelling can be tricky. These tips can help
students become better spellers.

#1 Spell by sound! Spell phonetically. Listen to the word. Say the word and write it/spell it by
sound.Pay attention to how the sounds are spelled. Base spelling on writing the sounds not on
memorizing letter names.

#2 Learn expected spelling patterns and helpful guidelines. Practice spelling by common patterns..

#3 When practicing specific words:

1. First look at the written word and say the word, looking at how the sounds are written. This should be
done phonetically NOT by letter name (for example: bird is /b//ir//d/ not the letter names B..I...R..D
which is said /bee/ /ie/ /ar/ /dee/). Read the word twice paying careful attention to the sounds and
how they are written.
2. Next write the word at least 5 times (10 times is better), taking care to write the letters as you say the
sound that they make. Look at which letters are making what sounds. Pay close attention to the
partner letter combinations. For example when writing the word bird you write b as you say /b/
and write ir as you say the /er/ sound and write d as you say the /d/ sound. Notice specifically
which letters are representing the sound. This is especially critical for sounds that have multiple
spellings (specifically note that in bird, the /er/ sound is made by the ir).

3. For any multisyllable word, say and write the word by syllables. Example for the word consistent you
would write con as you said /kun/, write sis as you say /sis/, and write tent as you say /tent/.

4. A helpful hint for learning how to spell a word is to pronounce all the sounds in the word, even if that
is not how you actually say the word. We often speak lazy English. This is fine in speaking and
reading but it creates problems with accurate spelling. When you practice spelling completely
pronounce all the sounds in the word. This often gives you a silly sounding proper version of the
word. Although we dont really say the word that way, it helps greatly when practicing spelling to say
all the sounds. This is especially important with the schwa pronunciation of many unstressed short
vowels in multisyllable words where a proper complete pronunciation of the short vowel sound
greatly aids spelling. For example:
for clothes say /clothz/ not the usual /cloze/
for family say /fam- i -lee/ not the usual /fam-lee/
for listen say /lis-ten/ emphasizing the /t/ that is normally silent
for aunt say /awnt/ even if you usually pronounce it /ant/
for manual say /man-yoo-al/ emphasizing the /a/ of the -al ending
for environment say /en-vi-ron-ment/ instead of the usual /en-vi-ru-ment/

In summary, the most effective and efficient way to learn spelling words is write each word 5 to 10 times
(or more!) while saying the sounds and focusing on the specific spelling pattern used. It is simple,
efficient and effective. Repeatedly writing the word while paying attention to and saying the sounds will
help you learn spelling words.